Skip to content

Why Management Ideas Matter

November 17, 2011

Who is the most influential living management thinker? That is the question that the Thinkers50, the biennial global ranking of management thinkers, seeks to answer. The results for 2011 are published today — 14 November. But does the ranking or the ideas it celebrates really matter?

It’s a fair question. In an age of awards overkill, it is tempting to see the ranking as just another example of hubris in the business world. All the more galling when many businesses are struggling.

But, celebrating the very best new thinking in management matters for three reasons.

First, ideas are important. They have the power to change the world. Think of Copernicus, Socrates, Aristotle, Newton, Galileo, or Einstein. Think of Charles Darwin, the ultimate disruptive innovator. Ideas define our humanity. They shape the way we think and see our place in the universe.

In the business world, too, ideas matter — from Steve Jobs to Tim Berners-Lee, and from Google to Facebook — new thinkers and new ideas challenge and redefine how we work and live. An idea can change an entire industry and ideas, from kaizen to the balanced scorecard, continually transform the way we work and lead our businesses.

Second, management matters. It has become fashionable in some places to mock management. Managers are the fall guys, the scapegoats for organizational excesses, failures and inefficiencies.

The reality is that management gets things done. The moment you move beyond one or two people working together, some form of management is required. There is nothing new in this. From Alexander the Great to the modern day, the elements of management — from organizational behavior to supply chain management — have made the difference between success and failure.

Even so, management is often seen as a poor man’s science. (Not so long ago economics suffered a similar fate.) Critics lampoon the latest management buzzwords, labeling them as pretentious and shallow. In truth, though, management has made big strides.

We have come a long way from Scientific Management and using a stopwatch to manage performance. One of the achievements of management in the last 20 years is the recognition that management is a fundamentally human activity, as much an art as a science. Ideas like Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory laid the foundations for notions such as empowerment and emotional intelligence, which have since become as familiar to us as the air we breathe.

Or consider the influence of Clayton Christensen, who tops the new ranking. Christensen’s influence on the business world has been profound. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, he looked at why companies struggle to deal with radical innovation in their markets. The book introduced the idea of disruptive innovation to a generation of managers.

Ideas like that make us reappraise what we thought we already knew. Until very recently, for example, most managers were (and many still are) convinced that fear and greed were the two primary levers for motivating people. But Dan Pink’s recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us tackles the perennial subject of motivation, and argues that we need to abandon the ineffectual carrot and stick approach, and the importance of doing something we love for a career.

Finally, management ideas can be the catalyst for a better future. Management thinking isn’t just relevant to business — it can change the wider world. From building the Pyramids to putting a man on the moon, management has always been at the heart of human endeavor. Today, the very best management thinking can address many of the challenges facing the world — from reducing world poverty and crime, to creating more effective healthcare and building a sustainable model of capitalism.

In recent years, for instance, Christensen has applied his ideas to healthcare and education — showing how enlightened management thinking can tackle the big issues facing society.

The ideas of INSEAD professors Chan W. Kim and Renée Maubourgne, the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy, have influenced companies, not-for-profits and national governments around the world. In 2010, the government of Malaysia launched the third wave of its National Blue Ocean Strategy. A key target is providing housing and water supplies for the rural poor.

And an August 2010 blog by Vijay Govindarajan and Christian Sarkar challenged designers to create a house for $300 and set off a campaign to re-invent housing for the world’s poorest people, building on C.K. Prahalad’s earlier insights on the opportunities waiting to be found at the bottom of the pyramid.

New ideas and new approaches are vital to fuel growth and progress. Ideas are not just a luxury to be enjoyed during good times; they are even more crucial in challenging times.

So let’s celebrate the place where ideas and management and the wider world intersect. And let’s think our way to a brighter future.

Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer

Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer (www.crainerdearlove.com) are the founders and directors of the Thinkers50. They are adjunct professors at IE Business School. Stuart is editor of Business Strategy Review. Des is an associate fellow of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.

Advertisements

From → Management

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: